I would, at the least, get a Shelter 501, a decent cartridge that would allow you to have fun with your system until you can afford (per your post) something better down the round. What surprises me, though, is why your initial impression was not more positive considering the table and arm you have.
Hope it's not the after effects of 'buyer's remorse.'
Among your three choices, I would go with the Shelter. I had a good experience using the Crown Jewel with a Graham 1.5 t/c on a VPI table. The Shelter 501 is very similar to the Crown Jewel.
The Shelter 501 would be a good way to go if you want bass, though I prefer the overall sound of the Dynavector 17DmkII. Both of those cartridges will be substantially better than the Shure. You might also consider whatever Benz Micro has to offer in your price range - A.J. Conti has a lot of good things to say about both Dynavector and Benz.
Ngeorge - I too was surprised that I wasn't more impressed with the set-up. However, other than one particularly good-sounding LP, everything up to this point has been so-so. No buyers remorse though, as I realize that both the table and arm are first-rate. Could be the cartridge/arm set-up.
James & Esoxhntr - thank you both for your input. It would appear from your comments that the Shelter 501 is in the running. Esoxhntr reminded me that I should probably contact A.J. Conti and ask for his suggestions too. Thanks guys.
A couple of opinions I would like to make.
One, you were the lucky guy who just snagged that off Audiogon, huh?! (Great price.)
Two, it appears to me, that you are running a very, very good turntable, with a very good tone arm, and yet you are using merely a good phono preamp and a pretty good cartridge. I think you need to upgrade both myself of those first. (The rest of your system is very impressive, btw!)
In fact, I think you should get the phono preamp first. I would recommend getting a used Aesthetix Rhea. These go for around $2,500 used. (My opinion is to not skimp on the amplification end of things, and judging by your choice of the Viva, I appears you agree that amplification is very important.) There are lots of other phono preamps that sound as good, or almost as good as the Rhea. However, very few are as flexible, and as easy to use as the Rhea. (You can adjust both the gain and the loading, from a remote control, so you can really dial in whatever cartridge you happen to be using. And since picking a cartridge is really a matter of taste, it might take you two or three or more to finally find your "perfect" cartridge. This will facilitate your search.)
In trying to keep with your budget though, (and to answer your original question), I would suggest a used Koetsu Rosewood (or better yet, a Rosewood Signature). These can be had for around $1,000-1,200. Or if you can stretch it a bit more, a used Shelter 90X can be found for around $1,500. Both of these cartridges are a bit on the warm side, especially the Koetsus. (The Shelter 90X will do justice to this system, as it has really good frequency extension, and it has really good mid-range. The Koetsus on the other hand, not great frequency extension, especially in the bass, but they have that mid-range magic that will charm you.)
Anyway, my opinions on the matter.
Good Luck in your search!
I would add to Kurt's great post. I would have you seriously check out a Sumiko Celebration (new from @$1100, to used for much less)
Works much more friendly with your unipivot bearing, than any Shelter cart. Better frequency extremes than a Koetsu, or 501, yet has this killer midrange and huge soundstage;Meat on dem bones - great midrange also.
Keep in mind, I have a Basis/Vector combo with my Celebration. The Basis bass can be as big as any table, but you cannot use bass lite carts like the 501, with bass lite arms like the 1.5. The Celebration is even top to bottom - when properly loaded(same as with any cart). As is the Vector - and thus the Basis TT can have a great bottom end. But if you use a light bottom end cart like the 501 or a Koetsu, with your 1.5 tonearm, with the energy the Shelter is going to feedback into your Graham, I think there are better choices. Your thoughts on a Denon 103R is a great way to go, can't go wrong there - I just think the Shelters aren't the best match to your arm (search the archives for others thoughts here as well). Let alone the Basis TT (at least the 501, the 901 and 90x match MUCH better to the TT, but still not to your arm)
I will agree with Kurt tank and go even further. With a serious system such as you have you should eventually consider something like the Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum. This will give the frequency extension missing in the non-platinum Koetsu's while keeping that "mid-range magic"
Whatever you get now, consider it a stop gap measure if you want to match the analog part of your system with worthy quality cartridge and phonoamp. You might also consider the Wavestream Kinetics Phonoamp which I have...It is terrific at about a similar price point as the Rhea.
I tend to agree with Kurt_tank based on my experiences with a highly modified 834P. This is a really good phono stage for the money. It does suffer roll off at both extremes and is warm and veiled compared to other phono stages. Last year the upgrade bug hit me when a Rhea came up in the listings. The differences where significant. Bass slam that will rival any digital source, not as warm as the EAR but to me this was a good thing. Timbre and dynamics in spades over the EAR. But at 3 times the price the Rhea should have these things over the EAR. It is very probable that your new Debut is being held back substantially.
I'm not intimately familiar with the Debut but I have owned a 2001 and currently own a 2500, along way off from a Debut but good enough to get the strengths of the Basis line. I can tell you that you should be feeling bass in your chest, voices eerily clear and right in the room, and small bells and cymbals that just hang in the air. Since you're currently using the V15VxMR I don't think the arm is an issue right now, but you could also improve your analog setup in no small way with a Vector tonearm. I have a Graham 2.2 and a Model 1 Vector. No, the Vector doesn't come with easy adjustment like some arms, but I have not found a situation yet that the Vector cannot breeze through without any re-adjustment needed. There is a very strong synergy with the Basis arms and tables. The 2.2 can do many things but seems to need more tweaking to get tracking and dynamics right. It also seems more sensitive to cartridge choice. Admittedly I don't have years of experience with the 2.2 but after trying for many hours I can say that the 2.2 does not handle a 103R as well as the Vector. However, I do enjoy my Benz Glider on the 2.2 and this cartridge should work well on your 1.5. This could be one to add to your list.
Kurt - Thanks for your thoughtful response. Yes, I'm the lucky guy who snagged the Debut on Agon. Apparently I wasn't alone in thinking it was a good deal. Living in the same area as the seller eliminated the need to pack and ship, which was a bonus for both of us.
Here I am trying to conserve money and you've got me buying a Rhea (just kidding). I almost jumped on a used Janus recently for $3,900. But having friends who own Callisto's which have been somewhat less than reliable, I thought better of it. But after getting the Basis, if I could sell the Viva Linea preamp and E.A.R. 834p for close to the price of a used Janus, I'd probably do it.
You suggest trying a Shelter 90x, but it seems Monk doesn't think the Shelters match well with the Graham arm. Is this just a difference of opinion or do the arm/cart matching formulas bear this out? I'm new to vinyl, so it gets confusing determining which arm goes well with which type of cartridge. High compliance/low compliance, high effective mass/low effective mass. Then there's medium, which is really a gray area.
I'm open to any and all opinions and suggestions. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to respond. Your input is very valuable to me and will be seriously considered.
Unfortunately the concensus seems to be that I'll have to spend a considerable amount of money to really do justice to the table and arm. I guess that will offset the good deal I got on the table, huh?
Stick with your original plan: buy a good cartridge for the meantime and enjoy the purchase before enbarking on a costly journey to buy more stuff like a preamp, etc. - that's not how it works!
Give A.J. Conti a call at Basis and ask him what cartridge would be a good fit, period.
No need to completely revamp your system - it's very good as is. (Or go one step at a time.)
Ngeorge - Thanks for bringing me back to earth. I sometimes have a tendency to believe that more expensive equipment is the way to solve a problem. You're right that my current equipment should be good enough to provide more than adequate performance. I think it's just a matter of proper cartridge matching and proper set-up.
While I suspect that a higher performance phono stage might elevate the system, I don't think that's the cause of my current problem, especially considering it sounded very good with a cheap Denon direct drive table with ancient Denon MC cartridge. I think a moving coil is more to my liking, and the E.A.R. probably sounds better with one as well.
Avoid the Dynavector 17 D2 MKII. I really was extremely disappointed with this, at least in my system. Very, VERY, light in bass.
Newmanoc - Thanks for your opinion of the Dynavector. I see you've got a Linn Klyde listed in your system. Is this your present cartridge? If not, what did you go with?
The Klyde is what replaced the Dynavector on my table, and I have been very happy with the results. It has great impact, pace, and conveys the overall musical message very nicely. Of course it does not handle detail the way more expensive cartridges can. You should also know it is very low output - 0.15 mvolts. I unfortunately can not compare it to a Shelter, as I have not had one of these on my table.
As to suggestions above about upgrading your phono stage, my opinion is that this should wait. Trying to fix something you don't like about your table with a phono stage seems to be going at it all backwards. Also, if you don't like the way the table sounds (or at least if it seems to be disappointing), you may want to see if it is really working the way the Basis designers intended it should. I don't know how friendly the folks at Basis are towards second hand purchasers of their equipment, but I would approach them (or the nearest dealer) about doing a once over and see if they feel it is up to their specs. It may require shipping it out to them, but it could turn out to be a great move.
Well, there are a few choices, I used a Benz Reference and Ruby some time ago and I think, all the Benz are good for the money, specially on voices.
In my opinion you should pay attention to the output of your next cartridge, it should fit, otherwise, when too low, it will be frustrating.
Sumiko sounds interesting ...
After letting the Shure break in for a couple of days, things are beginning to sound better. There's something to be said for patience. Sometimes my lack of it gets the better of me.
The images are now more solid with more air around performers & instruments; bass is punchier, with good snap and dynamic transients. Hopefully things will continue to improve, though I'm still on the lookout for a good moving coil cartridge to match the Graham arm.